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2HRS2GO: Market slump isn&#039&#039t big news

COMMENTARY--On the same day the U.S. military bombed itself and allies in Kuwait, at least two major news outlets decided a sizable drop in the stock market was more important.

Talk about an overreaction.

Was it a slow news day? I don't think so--the deaths of six servicemen would have been a headliner on many other days.

Perhaps it's no longer a big deal because this is the second U.S. Navy accident in less than a month. Pentagon statistics show 58 deaths in 57 military aviation crashes last year, so it's not as if these things don't happen from time to time.

However, you can say the same thing about stock market losses. Or weren't you paying attention to the Nasdaq's 40 percent slide in 2000?

It probably comes down to going with what your audience cares about. Most online readers of MSNBC and ABC News are more directly affected by a Nasdaq plunge than military deaths in Kuwait.

Much was made over the breaching of the "psychological" barrier represented by Nasdaq 2,000. Yet that's all it is: a barrier in the mind.

You already knew the economy is slumping. You already knew corporate earnings are suffering. You already knew that growth in technology spending has slowed or reversed.

If you didn't know those things, you probably don't care about the market in the first place. If you knew those things but remained stubbornly optimistic, the past week's horrendous news from the three biggest names in their respective sectors--Intel (Nasdaq: INTC), Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO)--should have driven home the point.

Given the preponderance of pessimism out there, Nasdaq declines aren't surprises; they're inevitable results. Yesterday's market action was nothing more than a continuation of a trend going on for the last several months.

Any number of items are newsier at this point, including peacetime military accidents, the cancellation of Korean talks, disease outbreaks in France and the NCAA basketball tournament.

Don't get me wrong. Index declines have some news value. The market action is always worth writing about. That's why I do this for a living.

But despite what some news outlets think, a heavy slide in the Nasdaq composite index or Dow Jones industrial average doesn't deserve a headline better suited for The Second Coming.

Unfortunately, America apparently remains obsessed with the stock market. The last few years have convinced people that the market is the be-all and end-all of life, the center of the world. "The Market is the economy," one reader declared recently.

Spare me.

Yesterday's activity only underscored the point that the market at its core is nothing more than a psychological gauge. When people feel good about corporations, the market goes up. Even technical analysis is nothing more than a way of measuring sentiment.

Money managers have to worry about these things because it's their livelihood. CNBC and CBS MarketWatch have to play it up because of their niches. But the greater populace, which presumably determines what is mainstream news and what is not, should have other things to fret over.

If anything, last year's painful tumble down Mt. Nasdaq should have convinced individuals to take a break from Wall Street. Put away your portfolio, go outside and enjoy the rest of the world. A drop in the markets isn't a big deal these days. 22GO>